BLOGTABLE: Two teams in the East to watch as camps open?
NBA.com Global on Sep 20, 2018 01:20 PM
TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 18: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors reacts to a play during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 18, 2018 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
As camps open in the coming days, which two teams in the East will you be keeping an eye on and why?
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Steve Aschburner: The Raptors and Bucks. I'm keeping an eye on the Raptors because they've made dramatic changes at the risk of being too clever by half. Dwane Casey fired, Nick Nurse promoted, Kawhi Leonard acquired, DeMar DeRozan traded ... when maybe all they needed was to have LeBron -- the human wall physically and mentally between them and an Eastern Conference title -- move his business westward. The Bucks, meanwhile, wasted a year of development and potential progress in 2017-18, in my opinion. With a new coaching staff and system, and with a shiny new arena as a diversion from real urgency, Milwaukee needs to take a major step this season and embrace its obligation to maximize Giannis Antetokounmpo's career. Otherwise the incessant media rumors about his eventual departure will be on them.
Shaun Powell: The Celtics and Raptors. It's just a coincidence that they happen to be the two teams with the best chance to win the conference. They get the magnifying glass here because of other issues, mainly injury comebacks. How does Gordon Hayward look in camp? Kyrie Irving? And with both in the fold, what rotation will Celtics coach Brad Stevens use? As for the Raptors, it's all about Kawhi Leonard -- not only his health, too, but how well his teammates take to him. (Namely, Kyle Lowry, also known as BFF to DeMar DeRozan.) This will ultimately determine what Kawhi does next summer in free agency.
John Schuhmann: The Sixers and Raptors. All eyes are on Markelle Fultz in Philly. If he can rebound from a rough rookie season and can shoot well enough to play alongside Ben Simmons, he could raise the Sixers' ceiling rather dramatically. In Toronto, it's about how Kawhi Leonard looks after missing almost the entire 2017-18 season, but also how new coach Nick Nurse might tweak the Raptors' style of play, whether Serge Ibaka can rebound from an ugly postseason and if OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam can start to realize their potential. There's also some intrigue in Detroit and Milwaukee to see if relocated (and accomplished) coaches can iron out the issues that plagued two pretty talented teams last season.
Sekou Smith: The Sixers and Wizards strike me as the most intriguing teams heading into training camp. We all know the Celtics and Raptors should be stocked and ready to chase the top spot in the conference vacated by the Cleveland Cavaliers when LeBron James departed for Los Angeles. The Sixers went into free agency hunting a big name and came up empty. But they have a wild card in Markelle Fultz who could fill the void of that big name free agent if he's ready to take off after his strange rookie season. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid should have plenty of motivation to come back with a vengeance this season, given the way the Celtics ran them out of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Wizards begin this season the way they seem to approach every one in recent years. Their internal belief in who they are usually dwarfs the reality of their situation. With their first significant change to the starting lineup in years (Dwight Howard for Marcin Gortat), I can't wait to see how they get their chemistry together now that both John Wall and Bradley Beal have established themselves as All-Stars. Get your popcorn ready, Washington.